Chinese scientists say they're close to building a real transporter

Contributed by
Dec 17, 2012

We all love our Star Trek transporter toys, but we all know what we really want to do is step into the full-size model and shout "Energize!" just before our bodies become light and then remake themselves in another place. Sadly, it's still out of reach, but scientists in China say they've just moved us one step closer.

Now before you freak out and think that we're on the verge of moving ourselves through thin air, understand the teleportation we're talking about here isn't that sophisticated. What we're talking about is known as "quantum teleportation," a method of transporting a unit of light (or photon) from one place to another using lasers and optics. It's also important to note that the process doesn't actually move the photon from place to place, but rather gets another distant photon to mirror the information in the original to create a duplicate.

Still, it's an impressive and unprecedented transfer of light information from one place to another. Chinese scientists set a quantum teleportation record in 2010 when they transported a photon 10 miles. Now physicists at the University of Science and Technology of China in Shanghai say they've shattered that record with a quantum teleportation of more than 60 miles.

But the achievement here is about more than just distance. Beams of light spread as they travel, so the farther and longer they go, the more the information in them breaks down. These researchers created a technique to keep the lasers they used for the teleportation harnessed and on course, preserving the integrity of the photons as never before.

So, if we're not able to move objects or people though space like this yet, what practical application does this work have? Well, there's always the option of using such a technique for "quantum cryptography," since a particular principle of physics means that the information traveling on the beam of light can't be intercepted without the knowledge of the sender.

According to Time magazine in 2010:

"Theoretically, this method 'cannot be cracked or intercepted,' says (intelligence analysis expert Matthew) Luce. If the photons in the laser beam are observed by a third party, the particles themselves will be altered due to a law of physics called the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which states that measuring a particle alters it. As such, the sender and receiver would be immediately informed that someone was snooping."

So the end result of moving photons back and forth in this way is a kind of ultra-secure line of communication that can't be covertly interrupted. Imagine if that technology were in the hands of an army, or a national intelligence service.

We're not beaming ourselves up yet, but breakthroughs like this keep getting us closer.

(Via Time)